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Civil Rights Organizations Demand Alabama Department of Corrections End Unconstitutional COVID-19 Quarantine

Yesterday, SCHR, along with ACLU of Alabama, Alabama Appleseed, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, sent a letter to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) Commissioner Jeff Dunn, warning that ADOC is violating the Eighth Amendment in their treatment of COVID-19 positive people who are being quarantined in the decommissioned Draper Correctional Facility.

The letter demands that ADOC immediately cease using Draper, and instead house individuals in medically appropriate settings. It further alleges that ADOC is housing COVID-19 patients from other facilities in the decommissioned Draper Correctional Facility, which closed in 2018 after Department of Justice officials informed ADOC of their shock at the deplorable state of the facility. Portions of the prison were reopened in April, purportedly to house ADOC intake arrivals from county jails. The COVID-19 patients are being quarantined in a former classroom that lacks running water, bathrooms, and showers. The only facilities available are portable toilet and shower units. The letter further alleges:   

  • The men – some of whom are suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms of COVID-19 – are often forced to wait hours to use bathrooms; many have had to relieve themselves into Styrofoam cups or plastic bottles. One man was allegedly not taken to a portable toilet until his 3rd day at Draper. There is a similar denial of access to showers.  When they are permitted to shower, the men are often only given minutes at a time, and they are sometimes threatened by officers with mace if they take too long.  
  • While at Draper, the men have little to no access to phones, writing materials, or other means of contacting loved ones. They are unable to file grievance forms necessary to report Draper’s inhumane conditions. One patient at Draper sent correspondence scribbled on toilet paper, as he did not have access to traditional writing materials.    
  • ADOC is not providing consistent access to adequate medical care. One COVID-19 patient was sent to a hospital with heart attack symptoms after allegedly not receiving his heart medication for days. Nurses come by just a few times a day to take the men’s temperatures and measure oxygen levels. There is reason to believe that symptomatic men at Staton and Elmore prisons often do not report their symptoms to prison staff for fear of being taken to Draper.    

To date, ADOC has reported 401 positive COVID-19 tests and 21 COVID-19-related deaths among people incarcerated in state prisons. Meanwhile, according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are more than 1,100 people aged 65 or older incarcerated in ADOC who have a heightened risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19.